alan kay

alan kay bw

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

A phrase said to be coined by Alan, find more here on wikipedia.

Most of what schools teach isn’t science at all, it’s science appreciation.


We had no idea how brilliantly amazing the man was when we first encountered him. Probably a good thing, we may have begged/shied off. Can’t remember where the first intro came from, perhaps James? Steve?

Anyway, we were deliberating the words for detox. Dream, in particular.. we started with believe, then ponder, then… Here’s a short exchange with Alan – left his words black (and James & Bernd) via email (he said we could share it, it’s been hidden in tons of our documentation for 3-4 years now):

playing with the idea of a standard process

we’re working on a standard process… so that topic/project/curriculum can be personalized per passion.
we see indispensable citizens as ones who are usefully ignorant, they know what to do when they don’t know what to do. so we think this process is more important than any content. and indeed can be learned and practiced through any topic/project.
so what are your thoughts on the following.. would they encompass a self-driven process of learning?:

  • notice (mindful of surroundings),
  • ponder (consider carefully, wonder about, imagine yourself..) ,
  • connect (to your purposefully selected group per passion, to needed info),
  • do (something that matters, validation is if it’s awesome, both defer – “to whom” as it should be)

pondering the word pondering and it’s implications to a better world – with Alan Kay.. thank you

asking about notice, believe, connect do..
Alan responds on belief:

i originally had believe instead of ponder…and then i talked to Alan. he suggested…

Scientists are supposed “to think” rather than “to believe”. This is because our brains are generally very poor at any kind of understanding that isn’t almost completely colored by our beliefs. Once we get some understanding of just how poorly our minds are set up by nature, we can start finding processes that can to some extent get around all the noise generated by our genes and culture, and start to “see” a little more clearly.

so i replied
you are right… we have been kicking around “believe” and “imagine” so that the connection piece would happen. but does that throw it out of the scientific element..?
we’re thinking it’s hard to gather a tribe if you don’t believe in it yourself – or if you don’t imagine yourself as a doctor or scientist…
and we really believe (think?) the learning takes place in the personalized group.
what about ponder – in place of believe – (consider or think about carefully)?
as for the control.. we’re really into alan november’s – who owns the learning. that might be part of why we picked believe as well – it suggests ownership.
have you read diy u by anya kamenetz – or james bach’s buccaneer scholar? – on self-ed.
i know we have to have some detox years… they say 80-90% of people want to be fed their ed.
you wrote  – how poorly our brains are set up by nature.. is that true because our culture feeds ed? i mean – if you take a 2-5 year old… who still has that natural curiosity – wouldn’t they just self-perpetuate a better and better process for learning?

“Ponder” is one of my favorite words.
The evidence is strong that our brains are not set up well by nature for good thinking — we really have to learn how to do it, if we are going to do it at all. Cultural beliefs have come out of mostly poor thinking processes, and we *are* set up by nature to put great store in and be greatly influenced by the cultures in which we are embedded. So this is a double whammy.
It is true that children are very curious — but one of the bugs in our brains allows us to be much too satisfied by simple stories as answers to the curiosity. Most of these stories over the last 200,000 years have been quite bogus, but most children and adults have still been satisfied by them. And wind up “believing” instead of “thinking” (or “pondering”).
The evidence is quite strong that most of human progress has come from rare hard to come by and hard to learn inventions. One of the things Anthropologists are extremely interested in is identifying human traits that are found in every culture — for example, in the study of 3000 cultures over the last 100 years, not one was found without language, without stories, without religion, without the notion of revenge, etc., about 300 common traits in all. The conclusion is that these traits are in our genes, and the specifics are filled in with the local cultural versions of each one of these.
Anthropologists have also identified behaviors *not* found in every culture. For example, reading and writing, deductive mathematics, empirical model based science, equal rights for all, etc.
These are the rare inventions. Some of them allow understanding and some control over the physical and biological worlds, and others have provided ways of thinking about how societies can be better organized.
These are the ones that I’m most interested in figuring out better how to help many more people get fluent in them.

odd that a we’re prone to the notion of revenge – and not to equal rights…
have our cultures taught us that?
very odd.
have you seen Ethan Zuckerman’s Ted on global voices?
if so – do you think his thinking is one of those rare inventions that might help us think beyond the cultures we live in?

The conclusion of Anthropology is that we are “wired by our genes” for revenge and vendetta, just as we are for language and stories. Traditional cultures reflect different solutions and processes and rationalizations to “what we want”.
If the idea of “reading and writing” (of “equal rights”) gets invented, then a culture may come to include the idea that these should be learned. For the former, it was originally just males of the aristocracy and scribes who were taught. The history of the world, and more recently of America, shows that “equal rights” is a very difficult idea to have and to learn. We are still struggling with it. Still, what we do have is more like that idea than any culture we know about historically. So this, along with literacy, science and math, etc., is an example of a large group of people gradually learning to behave in ways not programmed deeply by our genes.
Seymour Papert and I have called these inventions “Powerful Ideas”, because they have world changing leverage for the human situation. And we think that “education” should first and foremost be about helping people fluently learn the “powerful ideas”.
Anthropology is about “global voices”, and the learning of Anthropology is one of the most important processes anyone can experience.

Bernd joins us
Thank you for putting this together. One disagreement
Scientists are supposed “to think” rather than “to believe”.
This is one of the supposed-to’s that bears closer examination. I would reword it as:
Scientists produce results by observing, describing, reproducing other’s work and – here it comes – by tentatively believing (a hypothesis), then testing and reporting whether they could confirm or disprove the hypothesis.
Science could be called a proven way for belief system management.

thank you once again. each email is a gem.
i’m having trouble with this however..
The conclusion of Anthropology is that we are “wired by our genes” for revenge and vendetta,
not that i’m doubting you or anthropology’s research – as it’s obviously much more robust than mine … just very unsettling.

[and Michael via one email
– sorry to bother – i know you are busy.
pressing question in my mind..
having some debate, with some scholarly people, and within my own mind….
shirky and others speak of cognitive surplus relying on tech and generosity
papert and kay: The conclusion of Anthropology is that we are “wired by our genes” for revenge and vendetta,
could you help me sort?…
does generosity have to be learned and revenge is natural?
i would have guessed the other way around…

Both revenge and generosity are actually too complex to be one or the other.  Both can actually be linked to a more fundamental trait of humans – which is that we all seek meaning, significance, and recognition.  Even this is not totally “natural” though, as there are many societies in which your “place” (and most of what we think of as the search for meaning and recognition) is pretty much predetermined, so that you do not have the types of existential crises we see in the various manifestations of modernity around the world.
For a great example of how a different social structure can have a dramatic effect on how “natural” inclinations, check out “The New Baboon” on RadioLab:  ]

back to Alan..

The conclusion of Anthopology is that we are “strongly predisposed” by our genes to be interested and capable of learning language, and several hundred other things that are found universally in all cultures, no matter how different they seem on the surface.
We are “less strongly disposed” for the rare inventions (most humans have lived and died without learning to read or write, etc.) And the inventions seem to take more work to learn than the stuff our brains are more set up for.
Jerome Bruner has pointed out that the “powerful idea” invention for dealing with revenge and vendetta is the law, which is an attempt not just to codify behavior in a culture, but to move retaliation from individuals and groups to the whole society with the intent of having just one rebalancing done rather than winding up with a feud or vendetta that can go on for generations. This is not the best solution to the problem we can imagine (for example, could we teach people that trying to “get even” or “an eye for an eye” is not the best solution for anyone?) It’s one of the main messages of Christianity, but most Christians dive for the Old Testament when they feel wronged, and have wreaked perhaps more havoc than any other group in history (on the order of 100 million killed just in the 20th century) while paradoxically remaining devout.
And yes it is unsettling. And it brings a very different slant as to what societal education could and should be about.

i’m so glad i met you Alan.

this mindset is huge to what we’re doing. and what my heart is wrestling with. has been for quite a while.
i hope you don’t mind my questions. i’m afraid i have more than i have hours in the day for. sleep has become trivial.
i’m wondering – the strongly disposed by our genes… is that because of an innate belief of what we need? i mean – language – we want/need to communicate…
perhaps the people not learning to read/write (and even some of the scholarly ones that do) just don’t see reading/writing as a way to communicate.
i see ed much like you described our legal system.. one size fits all.  (i love what you said – just one rebalancing…)
what if we go back to personalization/individualization… not educating a particular content… but a process for learning things that matter… whatever those things are.
i’m still thinking that people – deep down – want to do good… i think the bad comes out as a defense to something.
but either way – we do need to educate ourselves back to that good or learn it in the first place.
have you seen Dan Pink’s stuff on emotionally intelligent signage?
i think that’s how school/life should be. simple, honest, to the point. we get so caught up in rules that we miss what matters. and then we make more rules because no one is following the first ones. kids don’t buy in because – like you referred to christians – they see some of their teachers/adults as hypocritical or clueless.
i think kids come to school with more today. because of the web. because of all they can learn on their own. i think now more than ever we have to strip back down to an individualized rebalancing.
i’m here with my friends who are getting their syllabi ready for the year… which mostly amounts to class rules. i’m watching on twitter – as friends share aup’s (accepted use policies) for their new tech integration. it all seems ridiculous to me – it always has. but now. well now i see it as one of the main roots of the problem.

One way of asking the question — “Is it possible to learn to think well enough so that we can transcend our biological heritage when larger and more important goals are at stake?”
History reveals a few individuals who have been able to do this.
So the next question has to do with whether this kind of thinking can be learned by most, or is it something (like artistic or musical genius) where most people can learn some of music and art, but only a few people can get above the high thresholds.
There is a range of variation in all of our behaviors (both built-in and learned), and some of them have important thresholds which include most people, and some have very high thresholds which only a few reach.
One of the big questions of the last few hundred years (and in parts of antiquity) concerns whether enough of a general population can think about their  society well enough to allow some form of democracy to work.Plato came to think not after the Greek democracy put his beloved teacher Socrates to death. Plato later advocated finding “raw talent” for wisdom and governance, educating these people until the age of 50, and turning over the running of society only to them. This has been tried a few times historically and hasn’t worked particularly well. (As a Roman poet once asked “But who will guard the guardians?”) Jefferson’s answer is that the whole people should guard the guardians through exercising their discretion built by education. This has had a very rocky history, and seems to be at one of its lowest points today.
One of the reasons it is at a very low point today is that most K-12 educators have almost no idea at all why the US was set up as it was, and what the citizens need to be able to know and do to make it all work.

[and James has joined in: My feeling is that Americans don’t need to know much to make it work. Our problem is not what we know, but what we are. We don’t understand what it means to be a free society -this is something that must be a visceral personal understanding the reason I didn’t beat my son when he was little wasn’t because of something that I knew about kids -it was because of what I am and how I want to share that experience with him the experience of being a sovereign person. I’m challenging religious beliefs about education – I’m challenging cosmology. I remember hearing things that ticked me off, but that I later came to accept.
Plato was one of the most famous philosophers he had a theory called “forms” which asserted the there was a correct pattern for everything that existed in some sort of ideal world parallel to ours. Ancient skepticism countered that we cannot know what is right and real
The philosopher Bayle took a religious slant on that and said that we cannot know God we cannot know anything about God which is similar idea he said that we naturally learn revenge but not justice. My response to that is: “Says who?” We construct justice just as we construct everything else. The most important point I’d like to share is that we can’t know what we *need* to know if we think we know what someone else needs to know we are deluding ourselves.. all we can say is what we want other people to know what we hope they will know and that does NOT define the future of thought! Richard Feynman has a wonderful quote about this. He said we must protect the future from our present ignorance We must let the future have new thoughts
and some of those will correct our mistakes. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to learn from the past. I’m saying the past is arrogant, and must be held in check by the arrogance of the future. It’s a dialectic. I don’t presume to know what my son NEEDS to learn. I don’t even presume to know what *I* need to learn. I just decide what seems urgent or interesting, to solve problems I care about  …there’s a book called “No Sucker Left Behind” that talks about payoff, too
you know what’s really stupid about them? they apply simplistic statistics to a problem where statistics are not applicable at all
A recent study showed that every such and such fraction of GPA added on average $1000 to future yearly income well, I charge $30,000 for a week of training and that training didn’t come from any GPA what all those calculations assume: is that there is a bell curve and that you can’t control where you are on the bell curve but it’s not a bell curve and you CAN control where you are we don’t look at a jet plane and say “on average it is on the ground” “so how can I expect to fly?”we know how to make it fly. And I can teach anyone to excel once they decide to stand up and walk toward something they are curious about. “Teach” here means “demonstrate” or “emobody” or “help”.
they may not be the fastest sprinters in the world but here is the reality of life: most people aren’t trying to race with you, because they don’t care -find something you love, and then you WANT to run to it.
“need” is a completely artificial idea – we’re not talking about food and water, here
In 1870 they thought we all needed to learn Latin..NEEDED Latin.there is no need …or NEED to go to Paris – or you NEED to eat peanuts – you want to, and that’s great but it is possible to construct a satisfying life without visiting Paris
there’s another category – and this is important – there are things we don’t want, that we may even hate, but once we have them they become a defining part of us. For instance, surviving cancer or learning to play piano – this is how some people justify forcing learning on other people
but I think of it this way: My son might learn a valuable lesson in self-reliance if I dropped him off in the middle of a city and left him there without any money. Or set his bed on fire one night but those would be deeply unethical experiences to impose on him. No matter how constructively he responded – therefore, I don’t manufacture crises – instead crises happen naturally, and I help my son cope with them if he wants my help. I think its unethical to impose MY idea of what’s important on my son. I just live near him and by living near him, he sees what I do and gets involved in what defines me – that’s enough]

i agree – and i think if you impose it on him – he won’t own it
or worse – he owns rejecting it.

that’s why i go to the students.
over the last couple of years we’ve been asking – how to redefine school.
every answer has been different, more books, less books, more hands on, less hands on, more lectures, less lectures….
no doubt personalization is key.
one answer however – was repeated over and over…. community service should be a part of every course.
seems they see great value in generosity.
i believe if we foster this… and i’m thinking currently – it has to come from a student led movement – that it will be the cure to many things.
i think seeing something bigger than themselves is a much better intervention than drugs or retention or tutors or ….
i also think that if we start seeing the benefits of generosity – that being good to each other is clever… many people we would have never imagined will blow us away with what they will learn and do and become.
i think carol dweck’s growth mindset is what is missing. not the ability of the brain to do whatever. people don’t believe they can make a difference. they don’t believe they can do whatever they want. so they settle.

A central question … students can tell you what they don’t like or want … but can they tell you what they actually need and how that should be learned?

i’m wondering why we think we know what they need Alan.
how do we define need?

Do they need to learn how to read and write?

1) still – define need…
2) i believe natural curiosity will drive students places we can’t imagine – if we can just be less helpful
3) jason fried said in rework that if he were hiring and 2 people tied, the one ability he would let decide, is how they write. a couple chapters before, he said that writing is the thing students need to unlearn the most from school
i’m not lobbying for uneducated people.
i’m just saying – i think we’re doing it wrong.
from my experience… the more i get out of the way… the more ownership and rigor from the student. and the web is exponentiating this potential.
i’m a waif… don’t let me tick you off.

Most humans have lived and died without learning to read and write. The evidence is that there is no “natural tendency” for learning to read and write (this is why it took about 180,000 years for it to even be invented).
And, it generally has to be taught one way or another. The best way seems to be through parents, if the parents read and enjoy reading. (This is why I cited the National Literacy Foundation’s study that showed that only 20% of American adults can “read and write with regard to ideas”. So most parents (and unfortunately most teachers) are not equipped to help children with this invention.
The end result is that literacy is diminishing at alarming rates. Besides the problems with the adults in the child’s world, TV and video games are much more set up for our genetic likes and dislikes, but have very few positive effects with regard to modern ideas. Reading has to be sheltered and protected for some years before it can compete with fast visual media.
By the way, “teaching” can be almost invisible if designed well. Montessori was an authentic genius (the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree) and she was a great designer. She understood that our nervous systems are set up by nature to try to learn the environment we are in. And she realized that most homes and schools environments are rather more like the discourse of the Middle Ages than the 20th century. So when she set up her schools she wanted to have “modern 20th century thought” be intrinsic to the environment. She also wanted the children to be able to choose what they would do each day and during each day. However, she also understood that children don’t have the context and experience to choose wisely from the whole human environment.

or do they?

So she put into her school deeply tested “apparati” which the children experienced as toys, and which she had designed to help them learn something she thought was important. So the children could choose from a wide variety of stuff (this made them happy), and the stuff they chose would help them to learn some 20th century concept (this made Montessori happy). The teachers in these schools 100 years ago were trained much more deeply than teachers are today, and personally vetted by Montessori. This is a very good way to deal with the problems of choice for children.
Etoys and Scratch are two examples of “partial Montessori environments” on the computer.
I think you can see that writing is a much better medium for both sender and receiver. The former has time to shape the descriptions and arguments, and the latter has time to go back until they understand them.


we later found – that he’d spoken at bif in 09

alan kay

at bif09
interesting.. the cutting out of things, etc.. that we often think is wasting time in class – is really good for think time..
one of best mathematical activities at any age:
1) deriving 2 diff laws – law for smooth (linear) progressions – 1st order diffy q – discrete
2) 2nd order diff discrete relationship – squares
24 min in:
the real basis of calc you would wind up using in college
calc has nothing to do with algebra – even though cloked in alg for historic reasons
calc is quite separate from the symbology used on itjust happens to be what Babbage did – built a machine to compute those numbers
a way of computing all of the values of all of the polys of a certain orderat 19 – said i wish to god these calcs had been executed by steam
people make so many mistakes – we could build a machine to do this (reeking of comp based math)mechanically integrating rather than symbolically integrating them
27 min in
the capture of change is more fundamental than the algebraic way of looking at it
Seymour Papert’s great insight: if you have a machine that can help you do the integration – you can chop 10 years
change outlook to teaching real math that are built into human beingseverything in science is done by adding things (vectors)
because science is so messy – takes so much energy to deal with real world – no time for the symbolic math
28 min in
we have computers to we can do things based on ideas
but we’re using them to imitate paper, expensive paper
basically – we’re using them to automate the pastscratch and squeak etoysand his 2009 Ted – a powerful idea about teaching kids
sounds like computerbasedmath via Conrad Wolframvia @davidballpdx
who’s at #bif10, read @kevin2kelly ‘s what tech wants and interacted with @plenk2010
perhaps this was a first encounter?

alan kay


Alan Kay’s reading list
Kay via wikipedia 
“The Power Of The Context” – Alan Kay’s tribute to his research community
“Points of View: A Tribute to Alan Kay” book 

Alan_Kay.jpgAlan Kay is one of the earliest pioneers of object-oriented programming, personal computing, and graphical user interfaces. His contributions have been recognized with the Charles Stark Draper Prize of the National Academy of Engineering “for the vision, conception, and development of the first practical networked personal computers,” the Alan M. Turing Award from the Association of Computing Machinery “for pioneering many of the ideas at the root of contemporary object-oriented programming languages, leading the team that developed Smalltalk, and for fundamental contributions to personal computing,” and the Kyoto Prize from the Inamori Foundation “for creation of the concept of modern personal computing and contribution to its realization.” This work was done in the rich context of ARPA and Xerox PARC with many talented colleagues.

He has been a Xerox Fellow, Chief Scientist of Atari, Apple Fellow, Disney Fellow, and HP Senior Fellow. He is currently an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at UCLA. In 2001 he founded Viewpoints Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to children, learning and advanced systems research.

At Viewpoints Research Institute he and his colleagues continue to explore advanced systems and programming design by aiming for a “Moore’s Law” advance in software creation of many orders of magnitude. Kay and Viewpoints are also deeply involved in the One Laptop Per Child initiative.

if we decide that every child should be taught how to read, write, do math, do science, then how should we go about it in order to provide success for student
but more – how to make sure – better thinking –

we can do so much more now – grow the brain – than ever – even the geniuses – with software

the big deal about ed – not about math, science, etc
it’s about the fact that the human brain is dangerously insane
alford porskipsky – science insanity
best we can do is unsane
we’ve been fooling ourselves for years – believing our beliefs are real.
now we have the means to find out some truth

does everybody need to be sane?
jefferson was asked this and said – the safest repository for the ultimate powers of society lie in the hands of the people themselves, if they don’t have discretion to deal with this, it’s not best to take the powers from them, but to educate them to better use this discretion
it’s not whether they can do their taxes or arithmetic
but the science about the society they live in – the difference between acting on prejudice and suspending justice, making a model of the situation before you come to a conclusion
viewpoints research institute – via kay
standards originally so people could read this – common sense by paine
instead of having the king be the law – the law could be king

he’s talking dmi – math thinking whether or not you are doing what you think math is or not.
what do the operations imply
science is harder – it starts off with uncertainty – so how much uncertainty are you able to get rid of, etc.
the processes go at the base of human thinking itself
alan’s reading
the education of man, froebel

David Weksler: @monk51295 David Neils – head of telementor (@dweksler) is in Ft. Collins, CO



Alan and Jerome Bruner on squeak:

we’ll never know what the world really is.. we always have to construct what we think the world is

my passion – how human minds make this sort of reality


interview with Gardner Campbell june 2014:

10 min – getting us back to potential of humanity w/o compulsion

11 min – tokenism – pleases pop culture. can’t tell difference between the menu and the food.

spinach or rock

21 min – cc – math is really interesting – to me – then goes on to explain mult fractions.. 5th grade

key – is it vital – to everyone..

23 min – formula no one complains about – is also hardest math – no one complains because it looks reasonable.. but justifying it is the harder derivation

35 min – so it is more – are we educating for understanding of ideas – or for genetics.. ie: it’s been much per rote

26 min – can’t imagine politician/marketer – wanting people to be able to think things through

29 min – starts talking about human universals

32 min – once you see the cargo cults – you can see them in your own culture (not thinking things through) – so trying to cope with things as humans always have, ie: changing verbiage to sound more modern

33 min – ultimate  cargo cult tokenism – getting something in to fix a problem they think we have – ie: text books cost to much, when the problem is more – are text books we are using any good  (la school system and ipad – and apple rules don’t allow downloading scratch project) – solving a lot of their problems with a symbolic gesture… which is not so good – ipad is set up for consumption rather than creation

37 min – we said at xeros – let’s work hard here – maybe we can cut off 150 yrs printing press took

39 – last 30 yrs – marketing hasn’t gotten anywhere near to what a computer is about

40 min – this is a low period now –

1:02 – what if we’re not meant to teach people to read…?

1:05 – see it was more fear of competition than love of learning. ..confirmed anthropologists – in the end, the social consensus trumps almost all forms of actual thinking..


1:12  – substantiated opinion

1:13 – i learned to read accidentally – before i went to school – so it wasn’t a chore..

goes with 1:02 – no?

1:17 – first time in my life i felt to happy – i wasn’t the smartest person in the room. but i was in a community – that was the smartest on the planet for computing… and they were friendly

jim watson – smartest person in the room is the community

1:45 – on funding.. we haven’t had anything really since early 80’s.. gone to – not able to fund crazy ideas… and funding has gone to smaller size

1:49 – engineering since then has been good – but not much in invention – most is similar to the 80s

1:50 – what we need is not better program writers – but a better way to program.. nobody is funding that..

1:51 – virtually all learning is autodidactic – you go to school to find out about things

great questions are would reveal if a student has become self-directed.. if they can show they did well in school – they’re missing it

1:56 – 31% of college grads proficient in reading.. colleges have changed what their jobs are.. they are now providing diplomas for money

1:57 – so the question is – what are you there for – because it’s really up to them (to learn)

2:03 – crime of ed – humans acculturate – we’re not natural rebels.. and we aren’t respecting that

2:04 – i got thrown out of my first school because i spent all my time in the library reading. missing class was not good for the morale of the rest of the students.

2:05 – even as bad as ed is – it’s worse not to go…(?) – it’s still the place where the bell curve is going to grant you that 1%.. what you don’t want to do is get into the pop culture.. become popular in the pop culture.. because then basically you are basically conning cave people… you are doing things that are amusing


it’s huge – you can’t get engaged in the big game unless you get involved with hugeness. i tell everyone to learn everything and then forget it. get an idea of what you want.

2:13 – the teachers that like to teach usually like teaching better than their subjects

2:20 – his idea of solution – have students be like college students in hs. so the first 8 yrs should be prepping for running their own education. not all the choices – that’s completely wrong – don’t have perspective and background to make those choices..


2:30 –  macos

through these eyes

2:36 – Jerome Bruner – a quiet radical – he doesn’t lower himself to get pissed off

2:37 – if something needs to be fixed – there’s no use screaming at the ones who have it wrong. it’s when people know what they’re doing and do bad things. but the problem is.. the enormous number of things that create huge barriers are done by people that haven’t the faintest idea what they’re doing

2:39 – most people can’t assess the outside the “normal” – so most don’t question all that’s going on



wikipedia small


from 1996? with Doug Engelbart, Tim Berners-Lee, Alan Kay, Nicholas Negroponte:

Douglas Engelbart, who was the keynote speaker and the numinous soul of the symposium, has interwoven these themes throughout his life’s work from the very beginning when, shortly after WWII, he decided to devote his life to a vision of using computers to help individuals and groups augment their capabilities to deal with ‘complexity and urgency’.


Kay commented that

    This was the visit that changed my life.  What Doug Engelbart 
    offered was not just a vision of interacting with the system, 
    but also a philosophical underpinning that is even more important 
    today than it was then.

Kay describes one aspect of Engelbartian thought:

    One of the phrases that he [Engelbart] used that I particularly 
    liked was 'thought vectors in concept space'.  I'm not sure I 
    understand what he meant, but what I think is that you are 
    creating an extension of the kinds of spaces that you think in 
    terms of inside of your head.  So, you are creating an 
    augmentation of the ways of thinking, the ways of representing, 
    the ways of associating that was now going to be extended 
    in a way somewhat analogous to the way writing has extended 
    us but somewhat more like the way we actually think.

Engelbart describes it as a method: externalize your thoughts in the concept structures that 
    are meaningful outside; moving around flexibly, manipulating 
    them and viewing them.  It's a new way to operate on a new 
    kind of externalized medium.


Berners-Lee – .. He described these protocols as fractal topologies that can occur both in network and social structures. Fractal topologies are those that scale so as to be present at all levels.


In the final presentation of the symposium, Alan Kay gave a retrospective of a period that he felt embodied a great paradigm shift in the way people thought about and wanted to use computers. He described the figures who influenced him in the ’60s and helped shape his own vision of a computing society and its technology. Prominent among these influential figures and events were Ivan Sutherland with Sketchpad, Doug Engelbart and the FJCC demo, the Simula language, and the Grail system at Rand. The people and systems populating Kay’s talk were all examples of successful efforts to do something completely new. His explanation for their success was that at this point in the evolution of research in computer science, the players were all people whose main interests and training cam from outside the field. They didn’t know what the technology couldn’t do, and so weren’t bounded by such restrictions.


Negroponte .. -But, he also reflected an optimism that the Internet would survive intact when he described the persistence of a migrating flock of birds in which there is always a new leader at the point of the formation no matter how many times hunters may shoot the previous leader.

copying is by permission of the Association for Computing Machinery.
Copyright 1996 ACM 1072-5520/96/0300

recommended watch via Gardner‘s 2012 talk:

The NITLE Summit 2012

The NITLE Summit 2012 – Keynote Address by Dr. Alan Kay from NITLE on Vimeo.

5 min – seneca not so much about ideas.. he was a process guy..

8 min – feynman – science means you don’t have to trust the experts

11 min – on scientists believing they are coming up with truth.. because it is so much better than stories we told ourselves before

12 min – until i believe it i can’t see it – mcluhan

14 min – on words (categories) and how the greeks missed science… they thought science was math

17 min – we know every category that’s used in the news.. you’ll never see anything new

18 min – the anti federalist.. (book) –

19 min – the kinds of changes we like to see are not done over human lifetimes.. imagine if people did things because they were good ideas.. it’d be a snap.. but most people won’t do anything because it’s a good idea.. that’s not why they’re in business….

20 min – i like lectures.. but it should be add ons to the real deal

only children need to be taught every second of the day..

? – wonder what he means by that..

24 min – if pink has lots to do w/genetics.. problem.. not just amount of work to learn language/stories which we’re wired for.. we have to learn other stuff – where school came from. traditional societies don’t have/need schools… adults out in open.. kids learning as they see them… but this new stuff… well..

25 min – on ed system being thermostat on society.. doing opposite of society is doing…. books: teaching as subversive activity –  then teaching as conserving activity

26 min – normal is being almost asleep – seneca – first thing is to wake up…

let’s do this first – free/wake up art ists

27 min – intersection is all about pondering/finding… 

27 min – liberal arts college – has depts.. not possibly a good idea…

28 min – on trusting the guardians.. and who will guard the guardians.. jefferson

34 min – what it means to that most schools are selling degrees… it’s not clear if colleges are about any form of ed anymore

40 min – what we want to do is deal with children.. their ghost is small and awake.. (keep them from going all pink)

1 yr to be 5 ness ..

43 min – talking about teaching kids fractions… (in bad ways)

43 min – computing is just comparing and choosing..

44 min – programming is making a machine into another machine via descriptions that can be interpreted..

47 min – to build an arch you have to build something that isn’t there when you’re done..

fractal ish to short bp.. as placebo.. ie: how to make us not want/need/use money et al

54 min – computers basically turn abstractions into things


Alan Kay’s 1977 article set me on the path I followed for decades New video also valuable

Original Tweet:

children who have not yet lost much of their sense of wonder and fun have helped us to find an ethic about computing: do not automate the work you are engaged in.. only the materials..

if you like to draw.. don’t automate drawing rather program your computer to give you a new set of paints. if you like to play music.. do not build a player piano.. instead.. program yourself a new kind of instrument..

A popular misconception about computers is that they are logical. Forthright is a better term. Since computers can contain-arbitrary descriptions ..any conceivable collection of rules, consistent or not, can be carried out. Moreover, computers’ use of symbols, like the use of symbols in language and mathematics, is sufficiently disconnected from the real world to enable them to create splendid nonsense. Although the hardware of the computer is subject to natural laws (electrons can move through the circuits only in certain physically defined ways). the range of simulations the computer can perform is bounded only by the limits of human imagination. In a computer, spacecraft can be made to travel faster than the speed of light, time to travel in reverse. It may seem almost sinful to discuss the simulation of nonsense, but only if we want to believe that what we know is correct and complete. History has not been kind to’ those who subscribe to this view. It is just this realm of …apparent nonsense that must be kept open for the developing minds of the future. Although the personal computer can be guided in any direction we choose, the real sin would be to make it act like a machine!

a nother way

hosting-life-bits via self-talk as data